Poker Strategy III - Preflop Thoughs and Strategy

Pre-flop Strategy in Hold em

Let's say you get a mid pocket pair ... sevens, before you take off like a gambling fool, you better think about all of the factors involved in solid pre-flop strategy.

  1. The number of players

  2. Table mix - how aggressive/passive are the players at the table.

  3. Your position - are you in betting before tight players (who might fold out if you play an aggressive strategy) or betting after loose players (the guy who raises on every hand ... who can make your evening by building just a few great pots) where if you play premium hands you can capitalize after they have made their loose bets and have a tremendous risk/reward opportunity.

  4. Risk/Reward - Are you comfortable risking a percentage of your bankroll on the hand.

Number of players: In a 9 or 10 hand game, there is much greater probability that someone else also has a strong pre-flop hand vs. a short-handed (6 or fewer players). In a large game,  you need to be more cautious in larger games because of the grater probability of another players having a strong hand pre-flop. In general, if you are in early positions you want to have a stronger opening hand and in later position you can slightly weaker openers trying to catch a flop that "fits".

Table Mix: How aggressive or passive is the competition. Assuming you've been playing with a few people for several hands, and you notice that seat 2 is raising every hand pre-flop, you'll want to play tighter. He may steal a few blinds (big deal), but wait and nail him to the wall when you have a solid hand in the pocket pre-flop.

Risk/Reward: If you have $10 left, you'll want to carefully select one hand to bet on, before the blinds get you, hoping to get as many players involved as possible for a larger pot possibly raising and going all-in before the flop is dealt. On the flip-side, if you have $1000 at a $3/$6 table, you can take the high-risk, high-payout bets. Also, if you are aggressive ...  and want to shoot for larger pots, and don't mind a greater chance for losing a few hands, the you  will want to raise pre-flop, especially if you are in late position or on the button. Others tend to be more selective as possible pre-flop, grinding out a winning hand here or there.

It all comes down to perception ... how you perceive the table, and how they perceive you ...  If the other players think you are tight, and you raise pre-flop ... how will the react ...

Now you start to see that there are two games involved ...
Poker ... and Perception ...

For the most part, you want hands that have high card value, or the ability to be the best hand (the nuts) so look for high value cards (Q/K, A/K, A/Q), suited (Preferably with one high card and drawing for a flush) and connected (drawing for a straight) cards, and obviously, always play high pocket pairs (queens or better). Lower pairs, while they always have potential - might not be as strong as you think. We'll get into the odds of poker in the next few sections.

Your position: If you are sitting in a late position, you have the ability to influence the size of the pot much more than those in early position. This is especially true pre-flop ... which brings us to: 


Pre-Flop Strategy Based on Position

Now that we have an understanding of position - and the basic pre-flop strategies that are not affected by position, let's look at some typical openers and how your position might affect how to play the hand. In general, the closer you are to the button - the stronger your position which means that you have more information to base your betting strategy on. Once you get over the fact that any hand can be a winner - being dealt 2c-7s would be as impossible a hand to win as you could imagine ... until the flop was 7h-7d-7c ... but that aside, it is important to recognize that certain hands will have a higher probability of winning than others - and after the flop, you should know exactly what your potential outs are and make a determination if your hand has a chance to win the pot. 

There are certain hands of strength that can be dominant - by definition, a dominant hand is one where there are fewer than three outs that can beat you - Let's say you have an unsuited A-K and your opponent has an unsuited A-J ... the only card that can help is a Jack to fall on the flop. You want to recognize situations like this - and just be aware ... later we'll discuss how to trap the unsuspecting.

Let's look at the basic strength of your openers: 

Obviously, any high pair A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J are going to be very powerful openers. Smaller pairs, suited cards, and zero and one gap cards also have basic odds that make them favorable based on the situation.

Opening Hand Rankings and Minimum Openers
# Off
Pairs Suited Hands Offsuit Hands # Off
 TT AQ       AK
 99 AJ       AQ
6 88 AT KQ             6
5 77 A9 KJ QJ     AJ       5
4 66 A8 KT QT JT    AT KQ      4
3 55 A7 K9 QT T9 J9    KJ QJ     3
2 44 A3 K7 Q9 98 T8   A9       2
1 33 A2 K6 Q8 87 97 J8  A7 KT QT JT    1
0 22  K2 Q4 65 75 T7  A3 K7 Q9 98 J9   0
SB    Q2 32 42 52 Any A2 K2 Q2 43 53 63 Jx SB

Red: Always call - Raise  (70% random) - Reraise (50% random)
Bold: Call - Defend for one or two unit raise - Raise (50% random)
Other Hands Shown: Call (50% random) Raise (25% Random) - 

* You will note that on the chart above we have added a Random action - One of the biggest problems that players have, particularly online players who jump into live tournaments is being able to be predictable. Just being aware of the fact that other players might read your tendancies will make it that much more unlikely that someone will.


Looking at the chart above, you will see that having a high pair is favorable. The hands in Red are the hands you will always open on and should defend with a raise or play a check/raise strategy. The hands in bold should at least be called to see the flop. 

The other thing you will notice is that the further you are from the button, the higher a caliber of openers you should have.  This compensates for the inherent weakness is your position as you move away from the button. In general, you will open or call in most situations where you have a pair and at least look at the flop. If you have a pair 9-9 or lower, and do not catch a set - look for other outs such as a flop of 6,7,8 where the odds of another player having one of the other 2 9's is only 2/47 or about 4.3%. Looking at the chart, you see that it is actually favorable to have suited over-cards rather than a low pair because of the higher probability of a dominant hand such as a Ace high flush or simply drawing a high pair on the flop. This is because but  you start to have suited over cards which allow you to have a possible high flush draw and possible outs for a high pair - you statistically start to have the percentages of making your hand with AK be higher than making a hand with a pocket pair of 9's or lower. This is calculated by taking the number of "Outs" or combination of cards that would give you a winning hand, so the odds of drawing a third nine would be: 

I determine the odds of not getting the card - so 48 cards that aren't a nine divided by the number of cards:

(1-(48/50)) + (1-(47/49)) +(1-( 46/48)) on the flop or about 12.24% - Don't worry - the next section is on calculating odds so it will be covered in a bit more depth. 

Then the odds of catching a third nine on the turn, since you didn't get it on the flop,  would be 45/47 or about 4.3%

And finally the odds of catching the third nine on the river would be 44/46 or again ... just about 4.3 %

Now look at the A-K. What really would kill the A-K is if you hit the third Nine, which you won't 87.76% on the flop - They have several possible outs 3 Aces and 3 Kings so the odds become (1 - (44/50)) etc  on the flop (44 cards that aren't a King or Ace) + (1-(43/49)) +(1- (42/48)) = which amounts to about 36% of the time - that the A-K will catch a high pair on the flop ...

Now in addition to position from the button - you hopefully have paid close attention to the players at the table. (this was covered in "position" but for those who skipped ahead its worth repeating):

In one sentence, sit to the right of a tight player - to the left of a loose player.

Here's why:

  1. With a loose player to your right, you're always evaluating the hand AFTER they makes their call.

  2. If you have a "tighty" on your left, you can easily steal blinds.

  3. When you have a good preflop hand (A/A, A/K, etc), and a very loose or wild players on your right, you can re-raise their bets knowing that they statistically don't have as strong a hand and probably get the tight players to your left to fold their mediocre and drawing hands.

  4. Free Cards !!! .... Why you ask??? ... Tight players on your left will more likely call a bet than re-raise even though they might have a better hand. You can more easily scare them into thinking you've got the nuts and buy more free cards despite the fact that they've got a positional advantage on you (a $3 raise preflop can save you a $6 call on the turn).

  5. Money moves to the left ... face it, the bankrolls of all players go up and down but tight players have smaller swings and Loose players have bigger swings... and because its easier to read players to the right, money tends to move to the left (where the players is positionally harder to read). When that loose player is about to take a negative swing, you want to be at a positional advantage over him or her.


So let's look at some situations:

Example: You are in the big blind, a fairly tight player raises in middle position -  What is your best play?

Your Hand


QQ or Better

Call. Go for check-raise on the flop.

55 - 99

Call. Do not necessarily give up if you do not flop a set.


Call. On flop play hard except check-call when ace flops. Make sure you calculate possible outs on the flop - straight draw - flush draw - etc


Call. Check-raise the flop if you have a draw or flop a pair. Consider probable outs vs. size of pot -


Call. Consider a check-raise on the flop even if you miss.


Call. Proceed with caution if you flop a pair. Muck it if there aren't enough potential outs to warrant a call - Be VERY CAREFUL if there are overcards.


Now consider a tight game where you are the small blind - action is to you - and you are against one or two tight players:

What is the best play?

QQ or better

Raise. Just Calling would give them a free shot to beat you.

55 - 99

Call. A raise will be unlikely to get rid of a tight player who called.

A-T suited

Borderline raise/call. Call when you have to put in 2/3's of a bet.

7-6 suited

Borderline call/fold. Fold for 2/3 bet, since 3-way is bad.


Raise. You want to be heads up so you can win unimproved. Hope for a dominant hand (like an opponent playing A-J where there are few outs that can beat you)


Call - Be careful. You are tactically weak and in a bad position - if you don't get the flop your looking for - muck it.


Here are some other situational calls in a mix of looser players - You are mid table - no positional advantage


Example: You are in the small blind after 5 loose limpers (players who call blind or seem to play anything). What's Best play?


QQ or better

Raise, again - just calling would give them a free shot to beat you

55 - 99

Call. See if you flop your set before investing more. If it is a loose game and you flop a set - perfect for a check raise.

A-J suited

Raise, for the same reason as in late position after limpers.

7-6 suited

Call. Harder to win pot out of position so may not win fair share. If you don't have several outs for flush, straight or flop a pair - muck it.


Raise, as you will win more than your fair share.


Call. You certainly cannot raise. Enough of a discount to call.

Final thoughts -

Remember - any time you have suited cards - you have implied strength. An A - 7 is more likely to win on a pair of Aces than actually pull the flush - You cannot live on straight and flush draws and survive in Hold'em.